BY JACKSON CHEN | Manhattan will be getting its own Veteran Treatment Court within the State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan beginning February 19, Manhattan Express has learned.
Joining existing branches in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, Manhattan’s Veteran Treatment Court (VTC) will be an incarceration-diversion court program tailored for veterans who end up with felony convictions related to psychological fallout from their military service.
Judge A. Kirke Bartley, a veteran who currently serves in the criminal branch of the Manhattan Supreme Court, will head the VTC at 100 Centre Street Downtown, according to the Unified Court System’s resource coordinator, Brandon Partnow.
Veterans who are convicted of felonies would have to consent to entering the VTC and also gain approval from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, according to Partnow.
The centerpiece of the veteran court, he said, is a mentorship system that pairs veterans with someone who acts as a support resource and checks in with them frequently.
“What makes the Veteran Treatment Court different from regular treatment courts is the mentoring initiative,” Partnow said. “The initiative is basically to find other veterans who know what people go through when people come back from being in service.”
According to Partnow, the veterans can be partnered up with a mentor as soon as their first day in court and would subsequently meet with them at least once a week. Along with offering a reliable human connection, mentors are expected to keep their vets out of trouble and on top of their assigned medical and/ or psychological treatment program.
“It’s someone there that’s been through it all also,” Partnow said of the mentors. “We found that other veterans are able to connect with veterans in a way that nonveterans really can’t.”
The Manhattan VTC branch is currently looking for mentoring volunteers in advance of its February debut. While the VTC prefers to have veterans serve as mentors, it’s not an ironclad requirement.
According to the volunteer application, “veterans are better served by having a support system that includes veterans who understand combat experience and the different aspects of military service.”
In addition to providing a mentor to the vets, the Manhattan VTC would offer a variety of services to help those in trouble get back on their feet instead of sentencing them to jail time.
Once a vet has been accepted into the specialized court program, they would meet with Partnow and representatives from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to see what benefits and alcohol and drug treatment services the vets may be in need of and also qualify for.
“Each case is different,” Partnow said. “For the most part, this is an alternative to incarceration for veterans.”
The Manhattan VTC would also work with community service providers, government agencies, and local vet organizations to expand the amount of services they can offer.
According to Samuel Innocent, vice president of policy for the NYC Veterans Alliance, the VTC in Manhattan would fill a gap in the borough in terms of veteran services. Innocent said that establishing such a court in Manhattan is overdue, given the options already available in other boroughs.
Currently, the only incarceration diversion program available to veterans in this borough is the Manhattan Treatment Court, which follows a similar model for low-level felonies that mostly involve drugs.
“They have procedures in place for dealing with veterans that may come through the system,” Innocent said of Manhattan’s current practices. “But it’s nothing compared to the Veteran Treatment Courts located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.”
Since Brooklyn opened its VTC in 2009, Manhattan officials have been working to establish an equivalent service here.
“When veterans find themselves facing criminal charges, we should offer them a second chance and the resources they need to turn things around,” said Borough President Gale Brewer, who called for the Manhattan VTC almost a year ago. “Especially when those charges may be the result of difficulty readjusting to civilian life after deployment abroad.”
Innocent said the new court program should keep veterans who are dealing with a rough transition out of the military — whether it’s substance abuse issues or post-traumatic stress disorder — with a way to keep them out of the criminal justice system.
“They have the benefit of the doubt that there’s no serious ill will,” Innocent said of what an arrested veteran will find at the VTC. “They don’t have to go into a pipeline of a prison system when it could’ve easily been mitigated by substance abuse counseling.”
Interested volunteers can contact Brandon Partnow, resource coordinator with the Unified Court System, at 646-386-4634 or [email protected].